Russia builds giant satellite antenna

Engineers at Siberia-based ISS Reshetnev company, the nation's key developer of military and communications satellites, continue making gradual but steady progress in the development of colossal antennas intended for installation on yet-to-be identified spacecraft. Several reports on the subject had surfaced over the years, indicating a large-scale effort in the field. Full-scale components of the system reached vacuum testing in 2015.


A concept of a nuclear-powered, all-weather military radar satellite presented in 2010. Credit: RKK Energia

Specifications of the "Specialized Spacecraft", SKA, proposed by RKK Energia circa 2010:

Spacecraft mass 20 tons
Operational life span 10-15 years
Capability of a power-supply system (nuclear) 150 - 500 kilowatts
Orbit Geostationary or highly elliptical
Operational deployment 2017

Russian radar reconnaissance project?

During the post-Soviet period, the Russian space industry put forward a number of proposals for military and civilian satellites sporting very large communications and radar antennas. In particular, RKK Energia, a key developer of manned spacecraft, worked for years on a large deployable antenna and even sent one of its prototypes to the Mir space station. The spectacular structure was then successfully opened on the exterior of the station by spacewalking cosmonauts.

Over the past three decades, RKK Energia proposed these structures for a variety of military and civilian applications, including its installation on a giant global communications platform. Tracing its roots to the Soviet period, the spacecraft was intended to be one of the payloads for the ill-fated Energia rocket. However, the project had never left a drawing board in the midst of economic problems of the 1990s.

In 2010, RKK Energia came back with a proposal for the so-called "Specialized Spacecraft" or SKA carrying a pair of umbrella-like reflectors. (In the Russian rocket industry a term "specialized" had been historically used as a euphemism for military projects.) According to the company, the proposed spacecraft would be used for "all-weather, round-o'clock monitoring of the Earth surface and its air space, as well as for weapons guidance in order to "provide informational superiority, particularly, during military conflicts." The SKA apparently mirrored American classified satellites believed to be operating in orbit. RKK Energia made the proposal for SKA in connection with the start of work in Russia on space-based nuclear sources of energy in 2009. As of 2010, a 20-ton nuclear-powered satellite could operate in orbit for 10-15 years starting as early as 2017. RKK Energia also proposed a similar satellite platform for the development of a global communications constellation.

However even that far-fetched project featured antennas with a diameter of "just" 20 meters, or more than twice smaller than the structure under development at ISS Reshetnev!

ISS Reshetnev's large antenna project

The work on large antennas at ISS Reshetnev traced its roots to at least August 2006, when the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, announced the formation of the Regional Center for Large Transformable Structures based at the company. According to the announcement, ISS Reshetnev (then called NPO PM) was already in process of developing antennas with a diameter of 12, 24 and 48 meters for installation onboard the spacecraft. The company was also working on solar panels with an area of 70 square meters. ISS Reshetnev stressed that the project aimed to provide hardware for the company's own satellites, as well as under contracts with domestic and foreign manufacturers. Among the participants in the upcoming activities of the large structure center, NPO PM named NPO Lavochkin, TsSKB Progress and KB Arsenal, all key developers of military satellites, including Lotos and Pion electronic-intelligence satellites; NPO Mashinostroenia, the developer of the radar-carrying Kondor and Kondor-E satellites; as well as RKK Energia and GKNPTs Khrunichev.

In August 2012, ISS Reshetnev, a leading Russian developer of military and application satellites, announced that it has been working on the enormous space-based antenna reaching 48 meters in diameter when deployed. According to the company, its design of the antenna reflector had the best chance of winning a tender of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, thanks to Reshetnev's know-how in large deployable and transformable space structures. The winning bid was to be selected in August, followed by the work on the preliminary design, the production of manufacturing blueprints and the construction of a full-scale mockup of the antenna segment, ISS Reshetnev said. The company did not specify what would be the purpose of the antenna, but noted that the project would be unique for Russia.

Before the end of 2012, ISS Reshetnev confirmed that the company had won a tender for the development of innovative antenna within a Reflektor R&D project.

Developments in 2015 and 2016

In January 2015, ISS Reshetnev released a video showing thermal and vacuum testing of reflector components for the 48-meter antenna. The footage showed an antenna segment placed inside the GVU-00 vacuum chamber featuring an internal volume of 600 cubic meters. The company re-confirmed that the giant structure had been developed for the Russian space agency.

In a potentially related development, the Moscow-based OKB MEI, a division of the RKS Corporation, announced in September 2016, that it had been working on a space-based antenna with an aperture of up to 24 meters, or almost two and a half times larger than the 10-meter dish of the Russian Spektr-R Radioastron telescope.

Page author: Anatoly Zak

Last update: February 16, 2024

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A concept of a prospective spacecraft for communications and broadcasting, PKS SV, presented by RKK Energia in 2009. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


In 2009, a Russian Proton rocket launched the W2A satellite for Eutelsat Communications of France, featuring a giant deployable antenna. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


A concept of global communications system using nuclear powered satellites with large deployable antennas. Credit: RKK Energia

RKK comsat

A scale model of a communications satellite proposed by RKK Energia. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak

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